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Chewings, Charles (1859–1937)

by Hans Mincham

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

Charles Chewings (1859-1937), geologist and anthropologist, was born on 16 April 1859 at Woorkongoree station, near Burra, South Australia, third son of John Chewings, pastoralist, and his wife Sarah, née Wall. Educated by tutor and at Prince Alfred College, Chewings also received a thorough practical training from his father, who died in 1879 leaving his family well-to-do.

In 1881 Chewings set out alone from Beltana with two camels to explore the possibility of establishing a cattle-run in the western MacDonnell Ranges. Next year he toured England, Europe and America. In 1883 he travelled from Murat Bay to the Warburton Range to assess the area's pastoral possibilities. Impressed with the efficiency of camels in the interior, in 1884 Chewings sailed to India and shipped nearly 300 of them to Port Augusta. Next year he opened a camel transport service based on Hergott Springs (Marree), explored the MacDonnell Ranges more thoroughly, and stocked his cattle-run, Tempe Downs. He mapped and named Chapple Range and Mount Chapple, Northern Territory, after his old headmaster, F. Chapple.

Accounts of his three inland journeys appeared in the Adelaide Observer; that of the third was also published as The Sources of the Finke River (1886), with a large map. Convinced of the interior's excellent pastoral prospects, Chewings became a strong advocate for a railway to facilitate settlement. On 8 February 1887 he married Frances Mary Braddock at Port Augusta and they went abroad for a year. On returning he was a stock and station agent, sharebroker and commission agent in Adelaide as well as maintaining the camel transport service, managed at Hergott Springs by Fushar Ackbar.

Chewings was excited by marine fossils discovered on Tempe Downs by his manager F. Thornton, and in 1891 published 'Geological notes on the Upper Finke Basin' in the Transactions of the Royal Society of South Australia. He listed the fossils and tentatively began an interpretation of the region's succession of rock strata. That year he left with his family to study geology at the University College, London, and the University of Heidelberg, Germany (Ph.D., 1894). He was elected to fellowships of the Royal Geographical and Geological societies, London. In his paper 'Central Australia' (1891) in the former society's Proceedings, he reviewed the region's history and praised its pastoral possibilities, mineral wealth, and suitability for date-growing and ostrich-farming.

In 1894 Chewings became a mining consultant at Coolgardie, Western Australia, where he was esteemed for his honest, factual reports during the goldfields' boom years. In 1902 he returned to South Australia and spent almost two decades in Central Australia as a mining consultant and camel-carrier of supplies from the railhead, Oodnadatta, to Northern Territory stations and mines. In 1909 he surveyed a stock route from Barrow Creek to Victoria River, and by means of light boring-equipment transported on camels, proved the availability of water throughout at shallow depth. He described in detail this country, long notorious for its lack of surface waters, in the Geographical Journal, October 1930. During World War I he mined wolfram in the Northern Territory and transported it by camel to Oodnadatta. After retirement Chewings published frequently on Central Australian geology in the Royal Society of South Australia's Transactions .

All his life Chewings had much contact with Aboriginals and he published a popular account of them, Back in the Stone Age (1936). In retirement he compiled an Aranda vocabulary including all the words previously recorded by other students and himself. This and the manuscript of his translation of C. F. T. Strehlow's 'Die Aranda-und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien' (1915) are in the University of Adelaide's library.

Chewings was an earnest, energetic man with the practicality to work successfully in adverse conditions: he accomplished notable pioneer work in geology and the study of Aboriginal culture. Survived by his wife, two daughters and two sons, he died on 9 June 1937 at Glen Osmond and was buried in West Terrace cemetery. His estate was sworn for probate at £1079. His name is perpetuated in the Chewings Range, Mount Chewings and a street in Alice Springs, Northern Territory.

Select Bibliography

  • W. F. Morrison, The Aldine History of South Australia (Adel, 1890)
  • W. B. Kimberly (ed), History of West Australia (Melb, 1897)
  • Pastoral Pioneers of South Australia, vol 1 (Adel, 1925)
  • Observer (Adelaide), 22, 29 July, 5 Aug 1882, 29 Sept 1883, 22 May–7 Aug 1886.

Citation details

Hans Mincham, 'Chewings, Charles (1859–1937)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/chewings-charles-5578/text9517, published in hardcopy 1979, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 7, (MUP), 1979

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